Blue Square Energy, Inc., is a solar startup founded in August 2004 and a self proclaimed “leader in the research, development, and production of high performance silicon solar cells utilizing cost-effective materials.” Located in North East, Maryland USA, Blue Square Energy has a 24,000 square foot (2230 square meters) facility and boasts of (potential?) annual capacity to produce over 20MWp (Megawatt-peak) of solar cells.
Jeffrey A. Barnett is the President and CEO of Blue Square Energy, and the core Blue Square Energy team includes former AstroPower technical staff. In addition, Jeff Barnett is Dr. Allen Barnett’s son as reported by Steven Church for delawareonline: The News Journal, UD lands $52.9 million solar power grant.
Several private companies, businesspeople and other universities are expected to be subcontractors on the project, including the DuPont Co. and Blue Square Energy, a small startup company operated by Barnett’s son, and some former employees of AstroPower, a defunct solar power company that Barnett founded. AstroPower went bankrupt last year, leaving many investors with worthless stock. At least two shareholder lawsuits are pending against Barnett because of AstroPower’s financial problems.
I first noticed Blue Square Energy in this press release announcing the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Very High Efficiency Solar Cell (VHESC) program. Despite Steven Church’s story, I didn’t discover the Dr. Allen Barnett to Jeff Barnett familial connection until the 21st EU PVSEC while I was reviewing the List of Participants.
After researching Blue Square Energy, I contacted the company and offered to write a feature story about the start-up. The company responded, “At this time we are not releasing any information about the company to the public.” Although Blue Square Energy confirmed Jeff Barnett was the President and CEO, the company was unwilling to provide Mr. Barnett’s bio, stating their website would be updated with more detailed information later this month. Of course, as a private company, Blue Square Energy has no obligation to release any information. I appealed the decision to Blue Square Energy’s PR firm, Braithwaite Communications, without result.
However, Blue Square Energy seems to have two faces with regard to public relations. Back in June 2006, Jeff Barnett agreed to an interview with Tech Talk with Craig Peterson, a radio talk show and Podcast (TTWCP-363-07-barnett-solar_power) focused on technology issues in daily life.
I was able to find evidence supporting a hint from Braithwaite Communications; “we (Blue Square Energy) recycle silicon and use very common techniques to do so.” On June 7, 2005, the Board of County Commissioners for Cecil County (Maryland) approved Blue Square Energy’s INDUSTRIAL DISCHARGE PERMIT for the receiving and procession of off-spec silicone wafers to the Northeast River Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant. Recycling silicon is a technique AstroPower pioneered for low cost solar cell production. GE Solar Technologies ended this practice as I blogged in this post.
While silicon recycling might be an early stage of the Blue Square Energy business plan, longer term, I believe the company is focused on developing VHESC technology with funding from DARPA’s VHESC program and the Department of Energy’s Solar America Initiative. However, in the near term, I speculate Blue Square Energy is developing high efficiency multi-crystalline silicon solar cells with mainstream PV processing technology, hence the “blue square” company name. My guess is Blue Square Energy will not try to reinvent Silicon-Film(TM).
A quick look at the Blue Square Energy website (http://www.bluesquareenergy.com) reveals a clean design and uninformative content. There is no information about the company founders, management team, or investors. I have been unable to find any record of venture capital investment in Blue Square Energy. Therefore, my conclusion is Blue Square Energy has been financed by the company founders, angel investors, or both. Blue Square Energy appears to have sufficient financing if their law firm, Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian, LLP, is a good indicator. But Blue Square Energy may be overdue for a major round of venture capital investment.
At EU PVSEC, I heard a rumor that Blue Square Energy has been recruiting former AstroPower employees from GE Solar Technologies, a General Electric Company (NYSE:GE) business. GE Solar is certain to keep a wary eye on technology and products developed and launched by Blue Square Energy.